Harvest is a blend of chaos and artistry. Overworked winemakers live by the call of the grapes. The grapes don’t care if it’s 9 a.m. or 3 a.m. When they are ready, it’s go time. Here is just a glimpse into the down and dirty of making AZ wine.
Vineyard: Dragoon Mountain Vineyard
Facility: Odyssey Cellars
Owner/Winemaker; John McLoughlin
I’ve read a few articles recently on “How To Read a Wine label”. Informative, yes, but there is more to a wine label than a clever name, pretty picture and some tasting notes. A wine label is a winemaker’s promise to you, the consumer. Do any of us really care about the alcohol warning statement and are there still people out there that really need to be told that wine contains sulfites?
Well, yes according to the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax & Trade Bureau, we do need to be told. The TTB, (as we reverently refer to them) does, of course hunt down and prosecute bad people playing with dirty money, but the department actually has a much higher calling.
It is the department’s mission to, “Collect the taxes on alcohol, tobacco, firearms and ammunition; protect the consumer by ensuring the integrity of alcohol products; and prevent unfair and unlawful market activity for alcohol and tobacco products.”
For most of us, we pick up a wine, check out its super cool, edgy graphics and its clever name. Sometimes we read the flowery descriptors, maybe note its alcohol content. But we are “LOCALISTS”! We are taking that extra step to sustain an important local industry, so we look for an ARIZONA wine! There it is. We think to ourselves, “It says Arizona somewhere on the label. Yes. This is an Arizona wine.”
Folks, Arizona wine comes from ARIZONA grapes. How are you assured of that wine’s origin?
Enter the TTB. Wine producers are required to maintain a very costly bond, copiously document production and movement of wine, pay a lot of tax and one more thing. Wine producers are required to obtain a Certificate of Label Approval, (COLA). No COLA, No sale. The TTB will allow exemptions, but they still want to know what that label says before it gets stuck on a bottle. Again, that label is a winemaker’s promise and yes he or she will be fined heavily for breaking it.
The Federal Government can write great laws, but the real work comes in trying to enforce them. WinesandVines.com reports that there are 7, 762 bonded wineries in the United States and the TTB has limited budgets for agents, just like every other Federal agency. They do a great job helping those wineries that are trying to follow the rules stay the course, but checking up on every winery is a challenge.
State governments can write their own rules. Oregon and California have some of the most rigid labeling laws in the country, all written to protect their wine industries and their respective American Viticultural Areas, (AVA). There are those in Arizona seeking to protect our state’s reputation as well. In July, HB 2317 was passed. It was sponsored by one of Arizona’s agricultural icons, Representative Brenda Barton. The bill mirrors Federal requirements for wine labeling. This is the first step in what will be the opportunity for the state to write rules that it can then assign to an agency, (Department of Liquor License & Control) to enforce.
These rules and how they will be enforced will assure the integrity of Arizona wine, so you the consumer can trust in this precious and sustainable industry. If you have any questions about a wine’s legitimacy, ttb.gov is just a click away.
Livin’ The Dream, Part 2
Part one of this article released outlined some of privileges that Arizona farm wineries have allowing local grape growers and wine producers to compete in an industry dominated multi-national conglomerates. The privileges are grounded in business reality and though they are designed to encourage investment and support start-ups, there are contingencies that must be met as well as local and federal regulations that must be abided by. With these privileges comes great responsibility and even greater financial liability.
Arizona wineries have a responsibility, first to the consumer. There is the expectation that the
wine produced should be of good quality. It should be a stable product and its value commensurate with its price. Most importantly, Arizona wine should be produced with Arizona grapes. New legislation has been created to protect the consumer and create legitimacy within the state’s wine industry.
State legislators made their intention to protect the consumer as well as the legitimate integrated vineyards and wineries abundantly clear by requiring licensees to actually produce wine, not just purchase out-of state bulk or bottled wine. An Arizona winery will only retain the privileges of the #13 license if it is actually producing wine or growing a minimum of five acres of grapes. Roughly translated that is 4,500 vines which will eventually, (4-6 years in maturity) produce around 15 tons of grapes or 2400 gallons of juice that needs to be aged anywhere from 1-6 years. The end result for this time & capital investment is about 1,000 cases. An obviously over-simplified statement would be that a truly integrated growing and producing winery could wait 5-6 years to enjoy their first bottle of wine. This looming reality is something that the currently non-producing #13 licensees must face. Legitimize or forfeit the license.
It is the requirement of both federal and state government that a winery maintain immaculate records. At any given moment either entity may enter a licensed premise and conduct an audit. It is the responsibility of the winery to record information from the moment the grape enters the facility. This includes any additions to the wine, (yeast), movement between vessels, (racking), filtering, bottling, cellaring and of course, selling. A gap in information can generate damaging repercussions including forfeiture of a license.
Capital investment is one thing, financial liability is another.
One of the most assertive examples of the strain of financial liability is demonstrated in the inequitable taxation of wine over beer by the federal and state government. Craft breweries are taxed at a combined rate of 38 cents per gallon. A winery is taxed at a combined rate of $2.41 per gallon, over six times higher than that of a brewery. Keep in mind the above statement that a true winery has to wait five years to sell their first bottle and begin to recoup their growing and production costs. Beer can be produced and sold in week. It is a curious inequity that shows up in the final price of the wine to the consumer, who is also taxed at the point of purchase.
These are only a couple of examples of the striking reality of the accountability that is tied to privilege. There is a joke in the wine industry and wine makers laugh only because it is true, “To make a small fortune in wine, you have to start with a big one.”
Livin’ the Dream, Part One…
There are nearly 100 licensed wineries in Arizona. The impetus to set up shop and live the winemaking dream utilizing the state’s Series 13 license is a seductive notion that could have easily been the design of Morpheus and Dionysis themselves. This license does however come with a great deal of responsibility and obligations to not only the governing bodies that regulate the industry, but to the purchasing public as well.
For its thirty odd years, our industry is still in its infancy and is feeling some expected growing pains. The governing bodies are only now beginning to address the previously unforeseen needs of a rapidly progressing industry. Arizona’s Farm Wineries and vineyards moving into their second, third and even fourth decades of growing are experiencing challenges and expressing a desire to create legitimacy and integrity within the industry.
In this two part article, we will describe first, the privileges given to Arizona grape growers and Arizona wine producers. Recent legislation mandates that these privileges are contingent upon a licensed winery’s commitment to grow grapes in Arizona soil and or produce Arizona wine in house. The second article will describe a licensed winery’s responsibilities, its obligations and how the new legislation will play a key role in the preservation and strengthening of a legitimate state wine industry.
To retain the privileges of Farm Winery, production must stay below 20,000 gallons, (8,400 cases) annually. Comparatively speaking, a single tank sitting at a Mondavi tank farm will hold 2-3 times this amount. Because we produce a limited amount, we are given privileges that allow AZ winemakers to compete in the wine industry on a more level playing field.
For example, an AZ winery has the unique privilege to self-distribute. This enables sales to be made directly to restaurants, liquor stores, wine bars, box stores, and each other.
Wineries are allowed to participate in wine festivals and sell directly to the public at events such as art festivals, county fairs and charity events.
AZ farm wineries can have a tasting room and retail location separate from the production facility. This is a key privilege because generally the grapes aren’t grown in highly populated or well trafficked areas.
A winery may custom crush and ferment wines for another winery that may not have the ability at its start-up to process grapes and produce wine for itself.
Wine clubs are an essential component to a winery’s sustainability with in-state shipments occurring two to four times per year. Another unique privilege. However, shipping out of state requires the permission of 49 other state agencies which in itself is a logistical and licensing conundrum.
A winery may obtain a restaurant license which allows beer and spirits to be sold, yet its percentage of alcohol sales must stay within the allowable percentage of liquor to food sales percentages allowed by the state.
Most recently, wineries were granted the privilege to distill grape products, ie Grappa, brandy and grape spirit. This opens a new door for Arizona wineries to produce products such as vodka, herbed spirit, (gin, agave, rum-spiced spirit, whiskey style products, etc.)
Arizona wineries have a comfortable set of privileges that allow healthy competition, sustainable growth and that encourage future investment in the industry. With privilege comes great responsibility and accountability. In April, we will describe in detail some of the challenges and the cost of accountability.
In the past couple of months, we’ve been writing articles giving insight to the realities of being an Arizona wine grower. Winemaking is a committed lifestyle and no one is complaining. As a matter of fact this month we’re going to celebrate the moments when the winemakers’ hard work, spirit and passion are immortalized. Competitions.
There are literally hundreds of competitions in the U.S., each with its own focus. There may be marketing goals at hand or altogether more altruistic reasons like promoting regional fruit or styles. There is a reason why certain regions grow certain grapes. It is that beautiful word, terroir. It is not only the soil. It is weather, climate, regional influence and how a winemaker can coax the varietal to most vividly express itself that is the base of a winemaker’s decision to enter a competition. Winemakers strategically choose competitions because they are seeking validity of their grape growing and winemaking from sources that they consider to be reputable and quite honestly, awards increase awareness. For example in the case of Dragoon Mountain Vineyard’s, (Arizona Angel Wines) win for an Arizona Riesling. Taking a silver medal in the birthplace of American Riesling was epic for
Arizona’a integrity as a growing region. Sand Reckoner’s 2013 San Francisco Chronicle win for the up and coming Malvasia Bianca raised the awareness of the buying public that Arizona can indeed create glorious, warm-weather, white wines. Every winemaker lives to make the best wine that they possibly can. Arizona winemakers are no exception.
In 2013 Cynthia Snapp, of Javelina Leap struck gold with her interpretation of an Arizona Grown Merlot in the Women’s International Competition in Sonoma; a telling victory for women winemakers who are pioneering new paths for Arizona’s wine industry as well.
Most recently, Arizona made a grand showing in the 2014 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. The competition received over 6,000 entries from all over the world. Twenty-three wines from Arizona received distinguished honors. Many were produced from the 100% Arizona grown fruit sourced from Dragoon Mountain Vineyard located in Arizona’s soon to be second federally recognized AVA, (American Viticultural Area) Willcox, Arizona. Only one Best of Class medal was issued to the state. It was to a single varietal Verdelho by Fiddlebender Wines, a collection produced by grower/winemaker John McLoughlin. Notably, the single varietal Marselan took an esteemed gold, both were fruits grown at McLoughlin’s Dragoon Mountain Vineyard.
Earned national recognition is everything every small Arizona wine producer could hope for. It brings notoriety for the state’s industry and warranted validity for Arizona grown grapes. If recognition by the Chronicle was the crown, then there is one more mention that would be the center jewel. In January, the industry’s leading publication Wine Business Monthly honored McLoughlin’s Fiddlebender Wines as one of the Top 10 Hottest Brands in the United States. Their focus this year was on wineries and winemakers that were in their own right, pioneers blazing new trails for generations of wine makers to come.
This year’s honors achieved by our wine makers have shown the world that Arizona grows quality grapes and its makers do indeed make world class wine.
Incredibly integrated flavors and brilliant acidity. This AZ grown Charbono brings forth a nose of dried cherry-cranberry notes, rose petals and a whisp of smoke. The mid palate is flavorful and pleasing with sweet black cherries amid the picture perfect framework of tannin and acidity.
Winemaker Notes: There are less than 150 acres of Charbono on Earth and Dragoon Mountain Vineyard planted our Charbono vines in 2003. Deep roots equal rewarding complexity. This French classic handles its French oak protocol well. Done in half ton fermentations with multiple yeasts and punched down three times daily.
Pairings: Think slow food like beef stews and roasted pork. Charbono has a wonderful symmetry with nuts of all types.
2014 AWGA- Wine of Distinction Silver
A complex and deep red wine with an abundance of supple, yet harmonious tannin. Flavors of ripe black cherries and impish hints of spice.
Winemaker Notes: Marselan is uncharted territory for the United States, Dragoon Mountain Vineyard was the first to seek out this grape to explore the newly defined attributes of Marselan’s classic parentage of Grenache & Cabernet Sauvignon.
Pairings: Grilled meats, savory vegetables and aged goat cheeses like Garrotxa.
2013 AZ Wine Growers- Wine Of Distinction
2013 West Coast Wine Competition- Bronze
2015 San Francisco Chronicle Gold
Powerful and masculine. Aromas of vanilla and soft leather. Deep, dark cherry and blackberry flavors are polished with dusty hints of cocoa.
Pairings: Smoked eel and beetroot on warm blini, Barbequed beef ribs, or Ossau Iraty cheese.
Winemaker Notes: 2013 Malbec spent some extra time hanging for added fruit intensity. This is a classic French styling of Malbec, smooth not chalky. This is not an Argentinian style; A beautiful French grape steeped in tradition.
Read about Malbec at AZWineMonk.com
Fleshy and full bodied with notes of white peaches, apricot and vanilla with a slightly stony but fruity finish.
Winemaker Notes: 2012 brought glorious, warm sun and very little rain at harvest. Twelve hours on its skins brings additional complexity. Select yeasts were chosen for each bin during fermentation to bring out each of AZ Chardonnay’s distinct and personal attributes. Each bin was then pressed altogether as one. Chardonnay was aged in neutral oak for 18 months.
Pairings: Salmon cakes, pumpkin ravioli or younger cheddar cheese with pears and apples
2014 AZ Wine Growers- Judges Favorite
2014 AWGA- Wine of Distinction Silver
2014 AZ Republic- 2nd Place Best Chardonnay
2015 San Francisco Chronicle_Bronze